A look at how water flows are managed brings up a few questions …
The Government of Ontario recently announced their plans to initiate “an internal task force that will consult with our municipal partners and other stakeholders in impacted areas on ways to improve the province’s resilience to flooding.” The announcement occurred as many areas in Ontario experienced water levels approaching the 2017 levels. Since then water levels in Lake Ontario have surpassed those of 2017 as noted in the Democrat & Chronicle: “The water level in Lake Ontario hit a modern-day high on Friday, exceeding by a sliver the record set just two years ago.”
Flooding in Lake Ontario is not a new event as that story noted: it “has happened in seven spring-summer periods since 1918, when record-keeping began: 1993, 1974, 1973, 1952, 1951, 1947 and 1943. The lake’s waters rose very close to 248 feet* on four other occasions dating as far back as 1929.”
The parties involved in managing water levels are numerous and include the IJC (International Joint Commission) which controls the Moses-Saunders dam between Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York. That dam controls the water levels in the Great Lakes to try and prevent flooding along the St. Lawrence River.
As well, the Ottawa River Planning Board was established to ensure integrated management of the principal reservoirs of the Ottawa River Basin. Members on this Board include representation from OPG and Hydro Quebec as well as Federal Government members. Interestingly, IESO, who manage Ontario’s electricity grid, are not members; yet on a minute by minute basis, IESO determine the flows for generation and spillage of almost all hydro dams in Ontario.
As if all this wasn’t enough to create complexity in water management, back in December 2016 the IJC adopted “Plan 2014” aimed at increasing “wetlands” in the Great Lakes. It was endorsed by Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama. Its effect was aimed at raising lake levels to create wetlands after lobbying efforts by people who thought this was good for the environment. The IJC said, the lake will often be a bit higher than it had been in the spring and fall, and roughly the same in summertime.
Now the IJC and all the other bodies involved in managing the water levels are blaming good old “Mother Nature” for the 2017 and 2019 events! The floods occurred despite the record snowfalls being reported by weather stations throughout the first three months of 2019. Record snowfalls generally signal major spring runoffs.
So, let’s look at 2019 and review the first three months of specific electricity generation in Ontario and compare it to the same three months in 2017 to see what might be different and determine if it raises a question—did wind power generation play a role in causing flooding in 2019?
If you look at the IESO’s “Generator Output by Fuel Type Monthly Report” for the first three months of 2017 you see grid-accepted wind power generation was 3,462.5 GWh (gigawatt hours); in 2019 it was 3,919.7 GWh or 12.9% higher. Curtailed wind** on the other hand decreased from 635.7 GWh to 225.2 GWh which was a decrease of 410.5 GWh or 64.4%. Coincidentally, that decrease was almost equal to the higher grid-accepted wind amount and also coincidentally quite close to the decrease in SBG (surplus baseload generation) spillage by hydro dams as noted below.
Looking at grid-accepted hydro for those three months, we note in 2017 it was 9,544.1 GWh and in 2019 was 9,787.5 GWh, an increase of only 243.4 GWh or 2.6%. Hydro spillage for SBG in 2019 was 0.3 TWh (terawatt hours) whereas in 2017 it was 0.8 TWh (also in 2018), a drop of 0.5 TWh or 64%.
So another question is: why was SBG spillage in the first three of 2019 about 500 GWh less, while Ontario’s demand during those same three months was up by 1,411.1 GWh?
One would expect when a major spring melt is anticipated, reducing water levels in reservoirs from mid-February into March would be the accepted practice in order to alleviate flooding later. The spring melt from tributaries deliver the melted snow to places like the Ottawa River basin where its funneled for run-off or held in those reservoirs.
For the 2019 flooding, the question becomes: did IESO favour industrial wind turbines (IWT) over either increased hydro generation or reduced spillage? OPG is paid for SBG spillage as are IWT developments for curtailed wind. Paying for curtailed wind while allowing more hydro generation and/or spillage may well have resulted in less flood damage costs which in 2017 were estimated at $200 million! This year’s cost could be higher.
One would hope the Ontario government’s “internal task force” investigates the above issues to more effectively understand all the reasons for the excess flooding and not simply blame “Mother Nature”!
*Refers to “above sea level”.
**Thanks to Scott Luft who tracks both grid-accepted and distributed curtailed wind.